The Sounds of Silence

Physical and spiritual breathless escape. The infamous Queen was out to get him, to make mincemeat of him. Where could he go to escape the prophet-hunter?

South. South. I must go south – as far as I can from her dragon-like, prophetic-consuming appetite.” He ran and ran, collapsing in despair, depression and self-destruction. God came to him in a deep sleep, tip-toeing round his foetal-like body, with a loaf of fresh bread just baked in heaven’s oven and a jug of fresh cool water from heaven’s springs, placing them by his head. He came again shaking his prophet awake. Speaking solitary words to the broken man “rise up and eat, and drink!”. The prophet sat up and guzzled and slugged the provisions of heaven until he lay back with a satisfied burp and fell asleep again. Heaven’s kitchens repeated the menu of fresh bread and water. Another shake and the prophet was awake and given instructions to eat, get up and embark on a long long journey of 40 days and nights into the deserted wilderness, into the solitude and the silence.

He stepped away from the bush, headed south, south, south. Finally the Mountain of God sat dominating the skyline. He clambered up the side following in the steps of Moses his prophetic hero.

There was no-one around. He took in the sights and sounds of the mountain top, the cleft in the rock, the cave, imagining the wonder of the revealing glory of God to Moses all these hundreds of years before.

The cave became his refuge. A place to shelter and sleep. God came again, this time with a question: “do you know why you are here?” The Prophet’s response was full of self – self-justification, self-pity and self-defensiveness. God then promised that he would pass by, if he abandoned the security of the cave and stood in the open, vulnerable and exposed.

Empty hurricane – no God. Empty earthquake – no God. Empty fire – surely he would come in the fire! – no God. God had not come. Only silence, deep, mountain silence. But the sound of silence was filled with presence, as silence between longtime lovers is pregnant with conversation beyond the confines of words and sentences. The intimate, close up and personal whisper of heaven caressed his prophetic ears again. Baulking and then receiving these sounds of silence – new purpose, new vision, new commission. A life-giving, expanded prophetic calling. The silence echoing with history, reverberating with sounds of God’s silent presence. With a quickened step he took up his call and set out down the mountain.

God came. He came in many phenomena and forms. He came in words and he came in silence. At the dawn of Advent 2019 feel the stir of the Spirit drawing you into solitude, silence and fresh intimate revelation of God and his purpose for your life as he comes to you in silence.

Graham Black is married to the lovely Hazel, is a friend to God and many who need a listening ear, and he has spent many years of his life faithfully praying for his city of Aberdeen. He is a man well acquainted with the silence and solitude he writes about here and is a wonderful story-teller.

Into the Silence…

This is the first of our Advent blog series on “Into the Silence.”

Advent. Coming.

Right now as I type, the Edinburgh Christmas market is in full swing, my Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with friends’ pictures of their Christmas trees and decorations adorning their homes, and the quintessential poinsettia sits on my dining table.

However, the special day that has inspired all of this festivity is not yet here. This is Advent. This is coming.

I have a few friends who dread the “Christmas season” because the pace of life revs up to a manic speed and they find themselves then collapsing in exhaustion on Boxing Day. I wonder how many of us can relate?

And I wonder if this indicates that we are in a way actually missing out on Advent? Because the very word itself suggests a season of preparation for a great arrival.

Jan L. Richardson puts it this way:
The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before… What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s [back] fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon.”

Jan mentions a great arrival in Scripture – the glory of God passing before Moses in response to his refusal to rush ahead, choosing rather to wait for the presence of God to accompany, to go with them.

There is another great arrival years later. Elijah, alone in a cave in the wilderness – exhausted, scared, discouraged. God promises to meet with him then a great wind whips through, an earthquake shakes the mountains and a fire rages. But God was not present in these impressive displays. Then comes a quiet whisper. The original word for this quiet whisper actually means silence. And in the silence Elijah knows God has come to meet with him as promised and he ventures out of the cave to listen to the words of hope and destiny that God has for him.

Jesus was born into a time of silence. The prophets of Israel had become quiet and it seemed that God was giving them the “silent treatment”. But other voices were not silent. The classic Christmas song, “Silent Night” is not an entirely accurate picture of the time that Jesus was born into. There was nothing calm about it.
There was great political unrest and upheaval, fear was rampant, those in authority could not be trusted, friends were willing to betray one another for a few pieces of silver, it was every person for themselves, division was rife; injustice, poverty, greed, oppression, disease and depravity seemed to have the upper hand.
And in the noise of this chaos and into the silence of God, Jesus – the Word of God – comes. He does not come in a way that draws attention, with noise and trappings. Those who were blessed to meet him at his birth and not long after were those waiting and watching in places of quiet – shepherds, wise men who studied the skies, and two people who had devoted themselves to worship and service in the temple.

We are all living in the midst of noise right now – the noise of financial stress, the noise of cancer, the noise of strained or broken relationships, the noise of mental health concerns, the noise of negative workspaces, the noise of despair, exhaustion, loneliness, fear… And many of us may be experiencing what feels like God’s silence, that ‘dark night of the soul.’

This Advent 2019 Jesus – the Word who speaks life and hope – longs to come again in our hearts. So how do we prepare our hearts to receive him, that we do not miss him when he passes by, when he speaks in that quiet whisper?

Maybe in the midst of the parties and celebrations, cheery tunes, bright, sparkling lights and retailers competing for our attention, we need to find our cave, our mountain top, our stable. Maybe, in the midst of a “season of indulgence”, we fast something that would distract us or muffle our hearing.

However we posture ourselves this Advent, may our hearts deepest cry this Advent truly be, “Maranatha”, “Come, Lord.”

Swapping Perfection for Contentment

Emma Timms from Dunbar shares from her heart as a mum about finding rhythms that keep us in communion with God, our families and others.

How do we find a sustainable rhythm in our spiritual life, family life, work life, friendships, health and downtime? How do we stay present to what is in front of us without getting sucked into worries, fears or a screen?

How do we give ourselves the grace and permission to try, fail and figure it out along the way?

The mirage of perfection just on the horizon has kept me feeling like a failure my whole life. Peace and contentment always just out of reach. If I can just stick with getting up at 5.30am I will have time to pray, exercise and journal. If I could just keep the house in order I wouldn’t get so stressed. If I could just check social media for only 10 minutes a day I’d be more present. If I could just eat well I’d be happier. If I could just keep everyone happy…

If, if, if… When, when, when…
Contentment and peace always just out of reach.

One of the things I’m learning is to greet the day as it comes to me and just do my best. That might sound obvious but if you’ve struggled with perfectionism you will know the relief of realising your best is good enough. Amidst endless failing, half starts and frustrations, I have actually managed to develop and sustain some simple and helpful rhythms.

It’s important to note that what works for our family probably won’t work for yours and what works for yours probably won’t work for your friend down the street. And what worked for you last year might not work this year! It’s something that needs to evolve as your life does. We all have our own challenges, work commitments and family dynamics to work with so comparison, as usual, is useless!

Here are some rhythms in our home to serve as examples and to spark imagination:

Rhythm 1. Yearly
For Jon and I, we have committed to one night away together every year since we’ve had kids. It’s become something so special and life giving to our marriage.

Rhythm 2. Monthly
Every month we have some sort of adventure as a family for a whole day, away from commitments, pressures and jobs. And every month we try to give each other some form of alone time

Rhythm 3. Weekly
We practise a loose form of sabbath. Saturday looks and feels different to every other day… the kids love having our attention and time and it provides opportunity for great conversations and memory-making. The busier we get the more sacred it becomes. It’s not strict or complicated – it just stops the treadmill.

For me this takes the form of cold water swimming. It brings joy, it clears the mind, I’ve made new friends, its actually good for you, its free… it ticks all the boxes. On a deeper level, its reconnecting me with something I loved as a kid and lost as an adult. I’m finding healing through it in ways I don’t even know how to write about.

Rhythm 4. Daily
The Examen
This is an ancient Ignation practice done once or twice a day as a kind of review of the movements of God in your day. There are various ways to use it but I do it right before bed. I’ve done it most nights for the last 2 years and it helps me to process daily life, practise gratitude and stop any resentments building up.

I hope these examples inspire you in your own quest for sustainable, life-giving rhythms that keep you connected to God and alive to your own heart.

If you want to read more, I write a blog for mums at which focuses on keeping connected to the Vine in the busyness, challenges and beauty of parenting.

Emma Timms leads Discovery Church in beautiful Dunbar alongside her husband Jon, teaches pilates, is mum to some adorable children and one happy dog and has gathered other cold-water swimmers now known as the Salty Sisters of Dunbar.

Balance in busy-ness

This is an old post but we thought the words might still hold their potency for some of you students out there…

Students have a tendency to cram. I say this as one who has often found himself on next to no sleep in a brave last-minute attempt to try and finish off some piece of coursework due the next day. But when I say “cram”, I mean more than just the usual night-before emergency revision session.
Timetables full of academic activities including but not limited to lectures, seminars, tutorials and self-directed study. The rest of our time is engaged with the social life that equally defines what ‘studying’ at university is all about – parties, pints, lunches, brunches, hang-outs, night-outs – an endless barrage of activity that can make even the most gregarious of extroverts wince a little inside. And even those of us who align ourselves more with the introvert end of the spectrum can often find joy in the busyness.

There is a risk, however, to equate busyness with usefulness. Whether we are supporting those who are closest to us or making good use of our time by completing tasks, life can take on…well…a life of its own.
The real danger is that our faith can become inextricably tied up with ‘doing’ and that, I daresay, can be found particularly in Christian student communities. It’s not long before the regular gatherings, socials, prayer meetings and outreach events can start to wear us down if we haven’t figured out a healthy spiritual balance in our lives. Even friendship evangelism that is meant to stem from a natural overflow of love can become contrived. Our one-on-one time with the Father gets relegated to the thing we ‘do’ in order to ‘do’ all the other things of life, rather than being the Source and focus of each day.

For me personally, “New Monasticism” is positively counter-cultural to the fast-moving society around us, especially within the bustling student universe.

Creating space and giving ourselves permission to reflect, contemplate and to just ‘be’ with Jesus is imperative to running the race set before us.

I find that following a daily rhythm of prayer isn’t another thing to add to my To-Do List but is instead what my To-Do List is structured around. It’s in those scheduled moments of prayer I get the chance to catch my breath, refresh in the Father’s love, and realign with His purposes before diving back into work again.
It is partly a disciplinary process as well. So even though sometimes during these check-ins with God I may not ‘feel’ or ‘hear’ anything from Him, I choose to believe that He is present with me. This then fuels me the rest of my day.

These appointed times are then not something I need to get ‘right’ but instead they serve as reminders to me that Christ’s grace is a constant flow that is well and truly sufficient.

My prayer and hope for my generation is that we know more of the gentle loving-kindness of God through the gift of His son Jesus, where our identity is ultimately found, and that nothing else is worth more than living life with Him.
To finish, a quote from the Philokalia that I came across recently sums things up aptly: “Stillness is not simply silence but an attitude of listening to God and of openness towards Him”. So although God didn’t necessarily create all of us to be deep-thinking contemplatives nor calls many to live as modern-day monks, each and every one of us is greeted with the friendly whisper from our Daddy in Heaven to “Be still and know that I am Lord”.

This was written by student Grant Holden who is studying Animation at Edinburgh College of Art. He attends St Paul’s & St George’s Church where he can sometimes be found boogieing when playing electric guitar during worship. He is passionate about the arts being combined with Kingdom values and has a heart to see contemplative prayer embedded more within society.